James Salter’s A Sport and a Pastime: “The relics of love.”

“I am only putting down details which entered me, fragments that were able to part my flesh. It’s a story of things that never existed although even the faintest doubt of that, the smallest possibility, plunges everything into darkness. I only want whoever reads this to be as resigned as I am. There’s enough passion in the world already. Everything trembles with it. Not that I believe it shouldn’t exist, no, no, but this is only a thin, reflecting sliver which somehow keeps catching the light.” pg. 17

While going through a phase of reading books about food, cooking, and eating (mainly food centered memoirs) about a year ago, I read James Salter’s Life is Meals, co-written with his wife Kay. While I picked up many useful bits and a few recipes from that reading, I wasn’t inspired to look into his fiction. Perhaps this was unfair, as it was an entirely different type of work than fiction.

Going through The Millions’ Year In Reading feature, I noticed two authors had chosen his 1967 novel A Sport and a Pastime to highlight. Julie Orringer (whose stories I want to read) complains that it, “received enthusiastic reviews when it was published, but fell into relative obscurity since—a fate that seems wildly unjustified to this reader.” And Mark Sarvas called it “a marvelous, haunting rendering of an erotic affair in France (sex, Paris, what’s not to like?), and now I am feverishly reading all the Salter I can get my hands on.” Now I, too, have fallen in love with Salter’s writing and am contemplating which Salter to read next: short stories, another novel, or his non-fiction recollections?

At the time, I had skimmed their thoughts, fearful of plot discussion, and soon after put a hold on it at the library. By the time it reached me, I had forgotten even the barest details of the novel, and I began reading it with no preconceptions or hints of what would be in store. And I think this is a good way to approach it, at least it was for me, someone who prefers a blank slate approach to fiction.

But, yes, sex. The novel is full of it. The way it’s described never seems wrong or untrue to life (to me), quite the opposite. I contribute this mostly to his incredible command of language. It’s dream-like and gorgeous. Numerous passages have been copied down into my journal/commonplace book. Instead of writing about it, I’d almost like to just copy out many long passages from the novel, like the one above, hoping that would be enough to convince you of its beauty. Perhaps I’ll restrain myself and leave you with just one.

“Certain things I remember exactly as they were. They are merely discolored by a bit by time, like coins in the pocket of a forgotten suit. Most of the details, though, have long since been transformed or rearranged to bring others of them forward. Some, in fact, are obviously counterfeit; they are no less important. One alters the past to form the future. But there is a real significance to the pattern which finally appears, which resists all further change. In fact, there is the danger that if I continue to try, the whole concert of events will begin to fall apart in my hands like old newspaper, I can’t bear to think of that. The myriad past, it enters us and disappears. Except that within it, somewhere, like diamonds, exist the fragments that refuse to be consumed. Sifting through, if one dares, and collecting them, one discovers the true design.” pg. 53

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3 Responses to James Salter’s A Sport and a Pastime: “The relics of love.”

  1. Bellezza says:

    I have not read this particular work of Salter’s, but a few months ago I read his novel Light Years. I completely agree with you in these two lines from your post: “I contribute this mostly to his incredible command of language. It’s dream-like and gorgeous.” It really is. His writing just makes you dwell in his world. Quice peacefully, in fact.

    (Thanks for visiting my blog; it’s nice to meet you.)

    • Libellule says:

      Nice to meet you as well! Yes, his writing does make you feel as though you’re in his world, that’s a beautiful way to put it. I will look into Light Years for my next Salter.

      • neal says:

        I would suggest strongly that you get your hands on a copy of Last Night, a haunting collection of short stories. In addition, if you like stories of fortitude in a muscular setting, I would urge you to read Solo Faces. I do not rock climb, but I am an athlete and a bit of an outdoorsman; the prose and descriptions ring true to me.

        I would be happy to recommend more books by Salter. He is a superior craftsman of sentences and stories.

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